Spielberg Can't Tell a Story
As a friend of mine just
put forth (and I paraphrase), you go into a restaurant and order a steak,
but instead they bring you a bowl of shit. You are revolted because,
A. that's not what you ordered, B. shit's not edible, and C. shit stinks.
However, if every time you order a steak over the next year (or 20 years)
they always bring you a bowl of shit, then shit will start looking better
and better as you get hungrier until, not only do you not mind eating
shit, but you can tell the difference between various kinds of shit,
and certain types of shit seem better than the others.
This is the state of motion
pictures in the world right now. We, the movie-going public,
have been given nothing but shit for nearly 20 years and it's being
accepted as a softer, easier-to-chew, version of steak. I'm sorry,
but it's still shit.
The king of the shit-makers is Steven Spielberg. Because
he's so good at making shit that looks like steaks, we have bestowed
upon him a billion dollars, two Oscars, and his own film studio.
Now Spielberg has his own shit factory.
Steven Spielberg has
no clue how to tell a story. In fact, the only story that Spielberg
has ever told that holds together is "Jaws," the last film in which
Spielberg didn't have complete control (he made the "Raiders" movies
for George Lucas, but he still made the movies he wanted to make).
I just saw "Saving Private
Ryan" and two weeks ago I saw "Amistad." The basic point of "Ryan,"
I'd say, is: War is hell. The basic point of "Amistad" is: Slavery
is bad. Steven Spielberg likes to shoot fish in a barrel, or perhaps
he just doesn't like to argue, because his themes are without opposition.
I don't think you'll find anyone around that will dispute that war is
hell or slavery is bad. If there's no dispute, however, then there's
no drama, and if there's no drama, then what the hell are we left with?
Spielberg manages to make big movies on important subjects that once
you've left the theater there is absolutely nothing to discuss.
("You know, war is hell." "It sure is, where do you want to eat?")
Mr. Spielberg apparently sees the world in black and
white, good and bad, with no gray areas. However, all of life
is one big gray area. No one is entirely good or entirely bad,
unless they're in a movie. In a Spielberg film a character can
begin as entirely bad, but will end up as entirely good (as with Oscar
Schindler). Ambiguity, seemingly, is an unknown concept to Spielberg.
Sadly, without ambiguity there is no irony and Spielberg's films are
completely lacking in this department. In fact, the only ironic
moments I can think of from any of his films are all in "Jaws" -- a
guy that hates the water becomes a cop on an island, and a guy that
hates sharks is eaten by one. I'd say the obvious reason, once
again, that there is some irony in "Jaws" is because it's really a Zanuck/Brown
film, not a legitimate Spielberg film.
What I find most disturbing
about "Ryan" is that I believe it crosses the line between dramatic
license and flat out lying. General George Marshall never ordered
eight men to risk their lives - during the Normandy invasion, no less
- to save a single private because his three brothers died. To
have General George Marshall, identified with a printed title, on camera,
order such a horribly stupid thing is not only painfully insulting,
I think it's libelous. To me it would be like making a World War
Two movie that showed FDR personally selling military secrets to the
Nazis. That's not a good "what if?" situation, it's a bald-faced
The U.S military may spend
hundreds of dollars on a toilet seat and billions on planes that don't
fly, but they didn't order eight guys during the D-Day invasion to save
one guy because his brothers died in battle. That's a fact.
Therefore, "Saving Private Ryan" is a lie; it crossed the line and is
no longer drama, it's now slander. That the world's most successful
filmmaker can't see that is a horrible indictment of the time that we
are presently living in.
"Schindler's List" and "Saving
Private Ryan" are the two biggest exploitation movies I've ever seen
in my life. If you accept the definition of "exploitation
movie" as "the dramatically unnecessary taking of human life or dignity
to achieve visceral thrills or shocks," then I think "Saving Private
Ryan" and "Schindler's List" make "Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare on
Elm Street" look like the work of newborn infants.
Since the actual (false)
story of "Saving Private Ryan" doesn't begin until Tom Hank's Captain
- with his bars showing on his helmet so snipers can easily pick him
off - gets the assignment to go save Private Ryan, the entire Normandy
invasion is dramatically unnecessary. Admittedly, it's the best
thing in the film by a mile, but if you cut it off you wouldn't dramatically
miss a thing. Therefore, it is exactly the definition of an "exploitation
movie" - "the dramatically unnecessary taking of human life to achieve
visceral thrills or shocks."
Worse still about "Saving Private Ryan" is it's utterly
false, lying structure, which I think Spielberg thinks is clever and
I say is really just plain old bad storytelling.
An old man, walking like
a duck or possibly having just taken a dump in his pants, followed by
his adoring wife, children and grandchildren, steps up to a grave at
a military cemetery, gets all choked up and the camera pushes in to
an extremely tight close-up of his teary eyes - cut to - the Normandy
invasion and Captain Tom Hanks sitting in a landing craft about to storm
Omaha Beach, push to an extremely tight close-up of his eyes.
All right, Tom Hanks is the old man, that's what you're telling me.
Blah blah blah for three long hours, Hanks is dead, close-up of Private
Ryan and we morph his face into the old man's face looking down at the
grave of Hanks. So it was really Ryan the whole time. But
if this whole story was in fact Ryan's memory, he wasn't there to remember
any of it.
That, I'm sorry to tell you,
is really bad storytelling.
"Saving Private Ryan" has an exciting,
very violent, opening 25 minutes, followed by 2 1/2 hours of shit.
And I mean shit, not steak.
Aug. 27, 1998